The Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) was the only organisation that LTA (Ret) Adam Khoo ever worked for -- besides his own. Find out how tough training during National Service (NS) helped him to succeed in his business.
Lieutenant (LTA) (Ret) Khoo, author of I am Gifted, So Are You!, earned his first million when he was only 26. In fact, the motivational speaker was ranked among the top 25 richest Singaporeans under the age of 40 by The Executive magazine in 2008.
Looking back, the 42-year-old, who completed his Operationally Ready NS in March, said NS was instrumental to his success.
"As I never worked for any company before starting my own business, (it was NS that) gave me the opportunity to learn and develop all the leadership skills I have today," said the founder of Adam Khoo Learning Technologies Group, one of the largest training and education companies in Singapore.
His greatest takeaway? Learning how to manage his emotional state in times of extreme stress.
He recalled an occasion in Officer Cadet School (OCS) when he and his platoon mates were made to stay in the push-up position in the rain while in Full Battle Order.
"The instructors were trying to break us down. Some people cried, and I was on the verge too. But I learnt to disassociate the pain from my mind," said LTA (Ret) Khoo.
"Instead of asking why I was stuck there, feeling upset and stressed, I stayed very calm and composed."
What he was doing was directing his focus on the positives instead of on the problem. This is a technique from Neuro-Linguistics Programming (NLP), a personal development science that helps individuals replicate the mental "blueprints for success" of exceptional people.
He first learnt about NLP in a life skills camp for secondary students. It brought about a huge transformation; he turned from a problematic and lazy student to an academic achiever in Victoria Junior College.
The tough training in NS then took his mastery of NLP to another level, which helped him to overcome challenges in running his business later.
"My company has been around for 14 years and there have been ups and downs. When we first started during the recession in 2002, we went through tough times," he said.
"We had cash flow problems, clients who didn't pay up, and I was wondering how to pay my staff their salaries. I was worried and stressed."
He added: "(That's where) my NLP training came in. I asked myself, 'Everything happens for a reason. What can I learn from this? How can this setback make me stronger? How can I turn the situation around?'
"Of course, these are just theories. But going through NS really brought them to life. It's very hard to upset me now even when things are not going well."
Becoming a leader
The SAF was where he got his first taste of being a leader. During his school days, he was an introvert who would always "siam" (hokkien for escape) taking on responsibilities, said LTA (Ret) Khoo. Having never been in a leadership position, he naturally struggled in OCS.
"I didn't know how to lead or inspire people. I was often scolded by the instructors, and even my own peers said, 'What the hell are you doing?'" recalled LTA (Ret) Khoo, who also struggled to pass his Individual Physical Proficiency Test.
"But I observed and learnt. When you get feedback or scolding, you can choose to blame others, or you can choose to learn from it," said LTA (Ret) Khoo, who became an OCS instructor after his commissioning.
Despite his current success, he still works seven days a week -- out of a deep desire to inspire more people to overcome their fear and break limiting beliefs.
He personally conducts two courses: Patterns of Excellence, a personal development course built around NLP, and Wealth Academy, which focuses on stock investing. "These are the ones that I enjoy most because they changed my life. That's why I am still excited to share them."
Over the years, LTA (Ret) Khoo, who was a Ground-Based Air Defence officer in 165 Squadron, also paid it forward by conducting free motivational and investment talks for his fellow Operationally Ready National Servicemen during his In-Camp Training sessions.
When asked for words of advice for young NS boys, LTA (Ret) Khoo said: "You have to serve NS and during those two years, you can choose to waste your time, or learn something from it. You can choose to feel miserable or enjoy it. So you might as well enjoy it and learn to better yourself."
"Back in school, I was never in a leadership position... I picked up these skills in NS -- how to lead people, manage them and plan. NS was a free leadership course for me."